I have said this before, but I’ll say it again.
Possibly the most striking example of a utilitarian university was the one I attended, lo, these many years past. It was in an urban area, right next to a slum. It had two or three buildings that were actually built for the university, but had bought some old hotels and some houses that it used for additional space. The grounds consisted in a patch of grass between buildings, but a good part of it was simply paved. The parking lot was largely filled with five-to-ten year old Chevys, Fords and Chryslers. The university was affordable.
A few miles away was a university for the truly wealthy. Beautiful gothic buildings, even the new ones. Walkways, arcades, and a parking lot full of Mercedes, Ferraris (no kidding) and the like. It was a breathtakingly expensive university to attend.
Today, my old university has lavish new buildings, exquisite landscaping, marble this and fountains of that, and it’s a long way from being inexpensive. It has expanded its grounds massively, but still has about the same number of students as it did before.
Did it really need fancy fountains and statuary and marble and lavish dormitories, when it operated just fine with old hotels, blackboards and chalk? I sometimes think overbuilding and gold plating on government loan money have had a big hand in making education virtually unaffordable.